A Little Goes a Long Way

After the May event of Gotan’e in Toyama, I went to the Buddhist Academy for a 4-day training course. The training is a reminder of good habits, things such as cleaning, organizing, discipline, manners and so on that polish our character. These are the “daily life” habits that get refined when I attend the training there. As we all know, good habits are important to cultivate. Good habits may be small things, but small things make a difference when they accumulate. But even though we know, we often don’t practice. For example, “young people don’t seem to always understand the advantages of going out of their way—going that extra inch —to land a job, or even a piece of business.” Dr. Lester Lefton, president of Kent State, finds that even those graduating from business school with straight As often need extra coaching on the minutiae that really count when you’re learning how to make an impression in the workplace. “We have to tell them: You need to have polished shoes, wear a tie, no you can’t wear flip flops to meet the president of the United States, he says.” When good habits are cultivated, we shine as people. The more good habits that are developed, the more good seeds we are planting on a daily basis, which will surely grow into a good harvest. This good harvest is a destiny of happiness or good fortune, as taught by Buddhism.

I sometimes think of polishing oneself like polishing one’s shoes. How often do people polish their shoes anymore? I really wonder about this. I think years ago it was a more common habit. It might be a habit that has been lost in time. When I was growing up I was frequently reminded to polish my shoes (I guess they needed a regular polish, as they were usually scuffed at the toe from kicking a football around). My dad would polish his shoes several times a week it seemed, before he left the house for work. He would tell me that if I polished my shoes regularly then I would not have to spend much time doing it. Just a quick polish is all it took to keep them looking good he would say. When you get used to your shoes

looking shiny, you don’t even notice it after a while. Others will notice it though. It’s the same with our character I feel. The more we practice good habits, the more we get used to them and they become the norm for us. After a time of constantly practicing the good habits, we forget about their effects, until someone else notices and compliments us on it. I think we all have this experience one time or another.

It reminds me of a time when I was a student in college. The room in the house I stayed had a brown hardwood floor. The house was quite old and the hardwood floor had faded and become worn looking. My parents came to visit one time and stayed for a few weeks. It was not long after they departed that I encountered Buddhism, and I started to do something that I rarely did before: cleaning. As much as I took the Buddhist teaching to heart, I took cleaning to heart, each morning for 20 minutes before I left the house. I grew to love this new experience. Several years went by, and I continued to clean, and made it a habit at this stage, when my mom came to visit. It was her first time to visit since the last time I had spoken of. She noticed the house was clean, but her words when she entered my room were what surprised me the most. “Did you get a new hardwood floor?” I looked at her in slight bewilderment. “No,” I replied, not realizing the meaning of her words. “The floor looks new,” she said. Then it dawned on me. The years of cleaning the hardwood floor every week, and with special oil soap for wood floors had turned the faded wood into something shiny and new looking. I had not noticed this change. The change had taken imperceptibly over the months and years.

In the same way, when we struggle to change our behavior little by little each day, the results accumulate over time to eventually turn our character into something that stands out, so it is taught. All we might notice is the daily work we are doing, but sometime, somewhere down the road, our efforts will be noticed and rewarded for sure.

On this topic I will quote a story from the book, The Power of Small: Why little things make all the difference. The section is titled, “Just Say Please.”

“Sullivan & Cromwell, a staid, white-shoe law firm, had an attrition problem—over 30 percent turnover for two years running. Compensation was not the issue— the lawyers were extremely well paid. Nor were promotion or health benefits at fault. Simply put, the young attorneys did not feel appreciated. When The journal American Lawyer published its annual review of midlevel associates, Sullivan & Cromwell rated near the very bottom of the 163 firms surveyed.

So in August of 2006, Sullivan & Cromwell’s partners decided to introduce two phrases throughout the company that had been sorely missing from the firm’s lexicon: “please” and “thank you.” Senior partners began making small talk with junior associates in the halls, over lunch, and in the elevators. They began praising them for jobs well done, or politely asking, rather than demanding, if they would be able to stay late for an urgent meeting.

It didn’t cost a dime, but the effort to be gracious, respectful, and polite to everyone in the firm, regardless of their position in the hierarchy, had a powerful effect. When the next American Lawyer review rolled around, Sullivan & Cromwell was rated the top employer among New York firms. And it all had to do with the power of small talk. The fact is, the words we use to express ourselves—as well as those we don’t use—make a big difference on how others perceive us, and feel about us.” (both quotes are taken from the book, The Power of Small: Why little things make all the difference by Koval/Thaler)

Frank Costelloe Los Angeles

Source: The Buddhist Village Times #65, A Little Goes a Long Way

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